Panasonic GX850 Field Test

GX850 shows that very compact cameras can still be very capable

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 05/25/2017

Panasonic 100-400mm f/4-6.3 ASPH Power O.I.S. Leica DG Vario Elmar lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 1250.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.
Introduction

As the most compact Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera currently in Panasonic's lineup, the GX850 is indeed a very small camera. Paired with its pancake kit lens -- a 12-32mm optic (35mm equivalent focal length of 24-64mm) -- you can easily slip the GX850 into your jacket pocket; an impressive achievement for an ILC.

Of course, with such a compact form factor, there are some sacrifices to be made. Fortunately, these sacrifices do not come at the cost of image quality. The 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and DFD-powered AF system deliver impressive images across a wide range of scenarios. Let's get into it and explore the strengths and weaknesses of the GX850 in real-world use.

Key Features and Info

  • Compact Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera
  • Only 11.9 ounces (336 grams) with batteries and kit lens
  • 16-megapixel Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • Native ISO range of 200 to 25600
  • 49-area contrast detect autofocus system
  • 3-inch articulating touchscreen display
  • Up to 5 frames per second RAW recording (up to 10 fps with e-shutter)
  • 4K UHD video recording at up to 30 fps
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • $550 for camera and kit lens (12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. Mega O.I.S. pancake lens)
Panasonic 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH Leica DG Vario Elmarit lens at 18mm (36mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

Design & Ergonomics: Panasonic GX850 is very compact & mostly comfortable

Body size, comfort and connections

Weighing only 11.9 ounces (336 grams) with its kit lens and a battery, the Panasonic GX850 is a lightweight mirrorless ILC. Its dimensions are a mere 4.2 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches (107 x 65 x 33 millimeters). Its small size results in the camera utilizing microSD memory cards, which requires an adapter to use with most card readers.

When using small lenses, such as the kit lens, with the GX850, its small size is no issue. The camera has no front grip -- just a textured surface -- and its rear thumb grip is a smooth rubber area. That's fine if your lens is lightweight as you don't need a firm hold of the camera to shoot comfortably. However, if you're using a larger, heavier lens, such as Panasonic's excellent 100-400mm lens, the GX850 can be cumbersome and unbalanced. I found it difficult to manipulate controls while shooting with the 100-400mm because the camera felt like it was going to slip from my hand. My advice? Always use the neck strap.

Button and control layout

Unsurprisingly, the GX850 does not have extensive physical controls; there simply isn't room on the camera for many dials and buttons. Control over settings like aperture and shutter speed is relegated to a dial that rotates around the directional/function buttons on the rear of the camera. This dial is quite loose and I found myself regularly adjusting aperture by accident while shooting. The camera just feels cramped overall and I don't have particularly large hands.

Regarding the buttons, they're universally small and not too easy to press. They sit flush with the camera body in most cases, although one function button on the top of the camera -- the 4K Photo Mode function button -- sticks out from the camera body and is easy to press. The top of the camera also has a mode dial which can be rotated with your thumb while using the camera.

Display

The back of the GX850 is dominated by its 3-inch touchscreen display. The 1,040,000-dot display articulates too; it rotates up 180. In bright light, the display can be hard to see, which is unfortunate given the GX850's lack of an electronic viewfinder.

Even in fine lighting conditions, the display is not particularly impressive. The GX850's display is a bit dull and washed out compared to displays on other recent cameras I've used. I regularly thought that images looked marginal on the display only to realize later when viewing them on a calibrated computer monitor that they were good. It's not a big deal, I just learned to trust the camera itself more than the display.

There are some useful display settings hidden away in the camera's menus. By default, handy things such as a frame guide, live histogram, highlight warning and zebra stripes are all turned off. It's worth digging around in the camera's menus before using it to make sure you have all the information on the screen that you want. A live histogram is a particularly nice feature.

Flash

The GX850 has a built-in flash, but it's not very powerful. It has a guide number of 13.1 feet (4 meters) at ISO 100. Another issue is that the max flash sync is only 1/50s. If the built-in flash isn't sufficient, the camera unfortunately does not include a hot shoe.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/50s, ISO 200. Flash fired.
The 1/50s max flash sync of the GX850 is underwhelming, but the flash can add a bit of fill, even when shooting a distant subject that is generally backlit. This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.
Overall

The Panasonic GX850 is a compact camera body, which is great. However, its small size results in a camera without many physical controls and an imbalanced setup when using longer lenses. With that said, if you want a compact camera body, there will always be trade-offs. Save for the rear control dial, the camera's controls allowed me to make changes to settings that I wanted to relatively quickly.

Shooting Experience: Good user experience highlighted by great image quality
16-megapixel Four Thirds sensor is sharp and impressive

The 16-megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor in the GX850 lacks an anti-aliasing filter, resulting in images with a lot of detail. While the lack of an AA filter can result in some occasional moiré artifacts, the GX850 delivers a lot of sharpness.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 640.
This is a 100% crop from a straight from the camera JPEG image. The GX850 produces images with a lot of fine detail well above base ISO. Click for full-size image.

While colors can appear washed out on the camera's display, the files themselves look nice. Colors are still a little muted, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as many consumer cameras oversaturate images, resulting in inaccurate colors.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 lens at 13mm (26mm eq.), f/8.0, 2.5s, ISO 200.
This is the straight from the camera JPEG image. Click for full-size JPEG image.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 lens at 13mm (26mm eq.), f/8.0, 2.5s, ISO 200.
The GX850 allows for extensive editing to its RAW files. I was impressed with how much I could do to this image. Click for RAW image.
ISO Performance

The native ISO range on the GX850 is 200 to 25600, but you can expand it to a low of ISO 100. When looking at JPEG files straight from the camera, ISO 100 through 800 is excellent, offering very clean images. At ISO 1600, noise becomes a bit more noticeable, at least when viewing images at full size, but there is still a lot of sharpness and contrast. ISO 3200 becomes a bit blotchier in shadow areas and the image starts to lose some contrast and fine detail, but it still looks okay and is usable for making smaller prints or for basically any web viewing.

ISO 6400 is where the trouble really starts for the GX850. Fine details get really soft as noise reduction gets stronger, especially in high contrast areas. Colors are washed out, and the image just looks very "digital." False color rears its ugly head at ISO 12800 and unsurprisingly gets quite a bit worse at ISO 25600, although you could conceivably use both ISO settings for small prints (like 4 x 6, perhaps), but I likely would not.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image.

Even RAW images look pretty good with only default ACR settings up through ISO 3200. It would take only cursory noise reduction to make an ISO 3200 image look quite nice. Careful noise reduction could maintain a lot of fine detail while removing the most distracting visible noise. To see the accompanying RAW files for the images below, click the links in the captions.

Panasonic GX850 ISO Comparison 100% center crops from highest-quality JPEG images with default camera settings. (Click images for full-size JPEG files, see captions for links to accompanying RAW files). Images shot with the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 23mm (46mm eq.) and f/8.0 aperture.
ISO 200 Full Scene
ISO 100 (Extended) (RAW)
ISO 200 (RAW)
ISO 400 (RAW)
ISO 800 (RAW)
ISO 1600 (RAW)
ISO 3200 (RAW)
ISO 6400 (RAW)
ISO 12800 (RAW)
ISO 25600 (Extended) (RAW)

Considering its sensor size, the high ISO performance of the GX850 is very impressive. I consider the ISO 100 to 1600 range to be very usable, while ISO 3200 is certainly good if you aren't printing full-size files.

Overall

If you simply looked at files from the Panasonic GX850, it may not totally blow you away with its image quality -- although I suspect it would still impress. But what makes the GX850 special is that it delivers the sharpness and image quality that it does in such a small body and with a rather large Four Thirds sensor. Considering its class, the GX850 is an excellent performer in the imaging department and a very capable camera in most shooting situations. The lack of anti-aliasing does lead to some occasional false color in repeating patterns, but it's a small price to pay for its sharpness. When you can fit image quality like this in a jacket pocket, it's hard not to be impressed.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 200.
The high sharpness occasionally comes with the cost of some artifacts, as you can see in the feathers in this 100% crop. Click for full-size image.
Autofocus: Fast and accurate contrast-detect autofocus system

With its contrast detect autofocus system, the Panasonic GX850 delivers very quick autofocus performance in the field. It's a 49-area system with Panasonic's Depth from Defocus technology. Despite not having a large amount of selectable points, it proved versatile enough and allowed me to achieve dependable focus.

The only exception to my generally positive feedback on the autofocus is that when trying to focus on a small subject, the camera sometimes would lock focus on an area behind the subject and then the camera refused to focus on the subject that was covered by the autofocus area. In these somewhat rare situations, I had to move the camera over a larger close subject and then recompose back toward my desired subject.

What is particularly impressive to me about the GX850's autofocus performance is how fast it can focus in difficult conditions, even when using the 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 3200.
This shot may not be particularly impressive. However, I shot this twitchy subject through a lot of tree branches and in very dark lighting conditions. I was amazed not only that the GX850 could achieve focus, but by how quickly it did so. Click for full-size image.

Autofocus modes include face/eye detection, tracking, 49-area, custom multi, 1-area and pinpoint, which is similar to other recent Panasonic cameras. Pinpoint is interesting as it is sort of like 1-area, except the display zooms in on the selected autofocus area when the camera is focusing. It's useful when working on a tripod, but I prefer 1-area for normal shooting situations.

Continuous autofocus performance is pretty good, offering fairly quick autofocus, but since the camera uses a contrast detect autofocus system there are constant small adjustments even when focus is locked in.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 364mm (728mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/160s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.
Metering and Exposure

Metering is performed via a 1,728-zone metering system, and the camera offers three metering modes: intelligent multiple, center-weighted and spot. Further, spot metering is tied to the active autofocus point, as indicated on the display by a small blue cross mark.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/400s, ISO 200, -0.33 EV.
In this tricky situation, some exposure compensation was required. Exposure compensation is accessed by pressing up on the rear directional pad and then rotating the dial to set your compensation. Click for full-size image.
Performance: GX850 offers improved performance

With its new Venus engine processor, the GX850 offers good overall performance. It's not perfect, though, as the camera has slow startup times. Another area where the camera felt slow was when starting image playback. After pressing the playback button, the camera takes a few seconds to show an image. Once you have started playback, the camera is fine, but that first step is a slow one. Besides that, it's a quick little camera.

Continuous shooting performance when using the mechanical shutter is generally fast. The camera cycles single shots in 0.34-0.35 second depending on if you recorded RAW or JPEG images, respectively. When shooting bursts, the camera's speeds range from 4.8 frames per second (RAW + JPEG) to 5.7 fps (JPEG). While those speeds aren't very fast, they're not bad for the price point of the camera. As you can see throughout this Field Test, the GX850 has speeds sufficient for shooting subjects like wildlife, even when they're moving about.

However, when I was in the field, the camera did slow me down due to regular writing processes while shooting RAW+JPEG bursts. When the camera is writing, any further shooting is slow and the camera feels sluggish overall. That said, I was using a slower card than the one in our lab testing -- where the GX850 was able to clear a full RAW+JPEG buffer in 15 seconds. The card I used is a Samsung 8GB Class 6 microSDHC card with up to 24 MB/s read and 13 MB/s write speeds. It's important to keep in mind the impact that card speed can have on performance, so if you want to shoot a lot of bursts, spring for a faster microSD card than I used.

When switching to the electronic shutter, the GX850 speeds up dramatically. The GX850 records high-quality JPEG images at 9.3 fps with the electronic shutter, RAW images at 9.5 fps and RAW+JPEG at 9.6 fps. If you want the fastest shooting speeds, using the electronic shutter is the way to go. Although, keep in mind the potential impact of rolling shutter distortion on your image quality, and that your buffer depths will deplete faster if you are shooting at faster speeds and you will not be able to capture as long of sequences.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 400.
Click for full-size image.

Another issue I had in the field is the battery life. The camera is rated for 210 shots, but during my own use the battery seemed to drain faster than expected, especially when using the 100-400mm lens, which presumably places greater demands on the camera than the 12-32mm pancake kit lens (for example, the image stabilization on the 100-400, if enabled, is active to some degree at all times, whether or not you're half-pressing the shutter button). If you plan to leave your camera continually powered on or use a long lens while out, you absolutely want a spare battery. The battery life is below average for a mirrorless camera, to be sure, but the GX850 does offer internal charging, which is nice.

Considering how small the camera is, the performance it produces is still impressive. I wish that the camera's speeds were the same when using the mechanical shutter as the electronic shutter, but that's okay. Live view during the fastest shooting speeds would be nice too, especially when trying to track moving subjects. There aren't many complaints here though -- aside from the poor battery life -- because the GX850 offers fast autofocus and good overall performance.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 3200.
Even at high ISOs, the GX850 impresses. Click for original RAW image.
Shooting modes

The GX850 offers a lot of creative shooting modes. There are different "Advanced Filters" you can choose from as well as various scene modes, such as portrait, night sky and soft image of a flower -- they really run the gamut on the GX850. You can see examples of some different filters in the Gallery.

There are also some "intelligent" shooting settings you can enable, including i.Dynamic and i.Resolution. The former automatically adjusts contrast and exposure and is designed for shooting images with a large variation in brightness between the subject and background. i.Resolution is supposed to automatically increase sharpness and resolution, but as you can see below, it doesn't do a particularly good job. The GX850's standard images are so sharp, I see no reason to use i.Resolution.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 at 18mm (36mm eq.), f/4.0, 1/25s, ISO 200.
100% crop from JPEG image with standard picture settings. Click for full-size image.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 at 18mm (36mm eq.), f/4.0, 1/25s, ISO 200.
100% crop from JPEG image with i.Resolution enabled. Click for full-size image.

While i.Dynamic is sort of like pseudo-HDR, there is also a dedicated HDR mode. You can choose from Auto, +/- 1, 2 or 3 EV. You turn on HDR via the Recording menu and you must disable RAW recording before you can enable HDR. It would be much better if turning on HDR just temporarily disabled RAW recording rather than having to navigate to two independent menus to use one mode, but I digress. The HDR quality itself is nice and the camera's automatic mode does a pretty good job.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 at 8mm (16mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/160s, ISO 200.
HDR Off. Click for full-size image.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 at 8mm (16mm eq.), f/8.0, 1/250s, ISO 200.
HDR Auto. Click for full-size image.

The camera also offers a built-in panorama mode, which records images that are 1,920 pixels tall and just over 8,000 pixels wide. The quality is pretty good although there are some issues with stitching complex scenes. Of course, manually stitching your own panoramas will deliver the best results -- and allow RAW recording -- but when in a pinch, the built-in mode is a fine choice.

Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4 at 18mm (36mm eq.), f/4.0, 1/1000s, ISO 200.
Panorama. Click for full-size image.
4K Photo

Like other recent Panasonic cameras, the GX850 offers 4K Photo modes. You can shoot 4K-resolution (8-megapixel) JPEG images at 30 frames per second and use neat Post Focus and in-camera Focus Stacking modes. The speed of 4K Photo is great, and it's a nice feature to have when you need more speed to capture action moments, but don't need RAW files or the full 16-megapixels. Keep in mind that you'll want a tripod for the Post Focus and Focus Station modes. Also note that the camera does crop-in when using 4K Photo, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as you are likely to be shooting sports and other action when using 4K Photo where a bit of extra reach doesn't hurt.

Wireless features

While it doesn't have Bluetooth or NFC, the GX850 does have built-in Wi-Fi and it works really well. The connection process is straightforward, requiring the user to turn on Wi-Fi in the camera's menus and then selecting the camera from the Wi-Fi network list in iOS settings. Once connected, you open the Panasonic Image App and select from various functions, including remote operation, image transfer, geo tagging, snap movie and photo collage.

Remote control of the camera is very good. The live view quality is nice and the amount of control you have over the camera is extensive. You can control shutter speed, aperture, drive mode, white balance, exposure compensation, autofocus area and ISO from a drop-down menu. You can also change a host of recording settings from the Q. Menu, including: photo style, filter settings, aspect ratio, picture size, quality, focus mode (AF-S, AF-F-, etc.), metering mode, flash mode, video recording quality, stop motion animation and bracketing. Further, you can select self-shot mode and jump snap settings (the camera can automatically shoot when it detects people jumping in the frame).

Screenshots from the Panasonic Image App on iOS.

You can independently move the autofocus and auto exposure areas around the frame using your smartphone display and set the camera to shoot when you tap the image area or use a dedicated shutter release button. You can also record movies with a dedicated movie record button.

Screenshots from the Panasonic Image App on iOS.

Overall, as has been the case with other Panasonic cameras I've used, the GX850 offers one of the best wireless experiences there is. The connection process is simple and the camera not only works well, but it offers as much wireless control as any camera I've used. Other manufacturers should take note of what Panasonic does with the Image App because it's far and away superior to most other options out there.

Video: Good 4K UHD video quality, but GX850 held back by sparse features

Features and Specs

The Panasonic GX850 records high-quality 4K UHD video (3840 x 2160) at up to 30 frames per second and Full HD (1920 x 1080) video at up to 60 fps. While the video resolution and quality is impressive, the GX850 lacks a few features that would make it a much better video camera.

One of the biggest omissions is a dedicated video mode, meaning that you don't see a preview of your video frame until pressing the dedicated movie record button, which immediately starts a recording. The frame does get cut from the sides when recording 4K video, so it's difficult to precisely compose your video frame without starting a recording.

Full HD video frame

4K UHD video frame

Further, regardless of what shooting mode you are in when you start recording video, video is recorded in an automatic mode. You can utilize exposure compensation by setting it before you start recording video, but that's the only control you have over settings when recording video. Autofocus is automatically set to continuous, shutter speed and aperture are automatic and so is ISO. For many users, this might be perfectly acceptable, but for users looking for even moderate control over settings for video, the GX850 isn't for you. Perhaps unsurprisingly the camera doesn't include any mic or headphone inputs. Another note about the GX850's video capabilities, 4K UHD clip length is limited to 5 minutes due to heat constraints.

Video Quality

As I mentioned above, video quality itself is impressive with the GX850. The sensor delivers high-quality 4K UHD video with good sharpness and color. If you want good video quality and are satisfied with automatic settings, then the GX850 is a solid option.

Panasonic GX850 4K Video Sample #1
3840 x 2160 video at 30 frames per second. Shot with Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 lens.
Download Original (225.2 MB .MP4 File)
Autofocus and Metering

When recording video, the focus mode defaults to continuous focus (even if the camera is set to AF-S for stills). The normally very fast autofocus slows down a bit to ensure that focus is continuously accurate. This works well as the GX850 does offer impressively accurate autofocus when recording video. To manually override the C-AF, you can half-press the shutter to readjust focus. A result of the contrast detect autofocus system is that the camera has a tendency to make tiny adjustments to focus constantly, which can be a bit distracting when viewing 4K video files as the high level of detail makes these small adjustments more noticeable. If you don't need C-AF, you can opt for manual focus for video recording.

Panasonic GX850 4K Continuous Autofocus Test
3840 x 2160 video at 30 fps shot with Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 lens. Subject Tracking autofocus mode.
Download Original (538.2 MB .MP4 File)
Modes

As I've already noted, there's not much provided for video-specific modes. However, you do have some control over some settings. For example, by pressing the shutter release, you can record still images during video recording. There are two settings available, Video Priority and Photo Priority. The former records up to 30 JPEG images at the same size and quality as the current video. The latter utilizes the chosen still image settings and allows you to take up to four still images during a recording. The catch with the Photo Priority option is that the screen goes dark when shooting an image and no audio is recorded during that portion of the video, so there's a trade-off there.

Overall

While the GX850 does not offer a lot of control over its video recording, its quality is impressive. The 4K UHD video quality is sharp and the autofocus is mostly great. For users that don't demand videographer-friendly features such as a mic input or full manual video recording, the GX850 ought to satisfy them.

Panasonic GX850 4K Video Sample #2
3840 x 2160 video at 30 fps. Used Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm.
Download Original (678.7 MB .MP4 File)
Panasonic GX850 Field Test Part Summary
An excellent value and great compact mirrorless camera
Panasonic Leica DG 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0 lens at 8mm (16mm eq.), f/8.0, 2.5s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

What I like:

  • Very compact camera body
  • Good touchscreen display and user interface
  • Good image quality
  • Excellent autofocus speed and accuracy
  • Very good wireless functionality
  • Good 4K video quality, albeit with limited shooting features
  • Great value

What I dislike:

  • The control ring around the directional buttons feels loose and is easy to accidentally rotate
  • Camera is difficult to use comfortably with larger lenses
  • Write speeds are a bit slow, especially when shooting RAW images, causing issues when shooting in bursts (at least with the card I was using)
  • While the camera is designed to be compact, using microSD is annoying due to the need for an adapter with most card readers
  • Poor battery life
Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

While there are slight handling issues due to the small size of the Panasonic GX850, its compactness is also a strength. This small camera packs a punch in terms of imaging, and performance for the most part, and its feature set is rich despite its affordable price point. The 16-megapixel sensor delivers sharp images, even at high ISOs, and the camera's contrast detect autofocus system is very quick, especially when shooting still images.

Overall, the GX850 is a very good mirrorless camera. If you are looking for something small but still offers the versatility of an interchangeable lens camera, the Panasonic GX850 is well worth a look.

Panasonic Leica DG 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 lens at 400mm (800mm eq.), f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 400.
Click for full-size image.

 

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